Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi held her weekly press conference today in the Capitol Visitor Center. Below is a transcript of the press conference:
Leader Pelosi. Good afternoon. Here we are on Wednesday, the day after the President's speech. I see the hardy souls who hoot with the owls and soar with the eagles the next day. Thank you for being here.
You may not know, but today is the fifth anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Act. We had a hearing this morning of the Steering and Policy Committee where Lilly Ledbetter was our central witness, and it was really quite remarkable. What a big difference the courage of that one woman made in calling her plight, which is the plight of many women in America, to the attention of the Congress. We established legislation, passed a bill, the first bill signed by the President when he became the President of the United States.
Last night, of course, was a triumphant evening, I believe, for America. Our caucus was so fully energized by the President's State of the Union Address. Some of the issues that we have talked about for a while, the opportunity gap that exists in our country, were addressed by the President, very fully, by his opportunity agenda, stretching from early childhood education, to making college more affordable, to lifetime learning – and everything in between in terms of education as the key to opportunity – to fairness in the workplace and valuing work.
We are particularly pleased at how he valued the work of women in the workplace and talked about pay equity, and we were absolutely thrilled that he stated a fact: “When women succeed, America succeeds.” And we look forward to his initiative on minimum wage for federal contractors as a next step.
We also welcomed the bipartisan, conciliatory gesture of the President to work in a bipartisan way on immigration reform, which I hope will start to roll out when our colleagues come back from their issues conference. They are going to be establishing the principles, as you know. We all are eager to see them. I am assured by the Speaker that they will be good and acceptable to probably all of us, and I hope that is the case.
The President went this morning to Prince George's County, and I am happy to say that, once again, he talked about “When women succeed, America succeeds.” And that means our principles there: paycheck fairness and raising the minimum wage. Over 60 percent of people getting the minimum wage are women. And did you know the majority of people getting the minimum wage are 35 years and older? The work and family balance aspect of paid sick leave, some version of that, is part of our “Women Succeed” Agenda, along with affordable child care. So we are very excited about the President's universal pre-K initiative: “Children learning, parents earning.” It's all connected, the opportunity agenda that the President put forth.
Of course, leading up to that, yesterday, the Republicans had one of their bills to nowhere on the floor. The substance of the bill did not match the title, but that's par for the course. But while we were having that debate, hundreds more Americans lost their unemployment benefits. Now we are reaching up to 1.6 million people. We're hopeful that the Senate can move on this and that the House will follow suit. Each week, 72,000 more Americans join the ranks of those not receiving it.
A number of our Members last night – you may have noticed the aqua ribbon that we were wearing. That was in in solidarity with those who had lost their benefits. And some of them came to my office before the speech, and one couple told me that they are professionals, that the husband lost his job, and they got the letter the day before Christmas. And it’s just stunning, because it's one thing to lose your job and have all of that uncertainty, but then to lose the benefits – the letter coming the day before Christmas saying that December 28th was the end of that.
So I would hope that our Republican colleagues in their deliberation – and I know they will be prayerful and I know they will be sincere – will address the indifference that they have had for working people and their families and the challenges they face, whether it is about valuing their work in the workplace and raising the minimum wage; whether it's understanding that “children learning, parents earning” and considering the President's universal pre-K initiative; whether it is passing unemployment legislation to extend the unemployment benefits. I don't think they have to be paid for. They're emergency. By and large they haven't been paid for. But if that's what they require, let's work together to find an offset for it.
But the indifference to all of that, that they can let week after week go by, is something that it's hard to negotiate with. If you have a strong position – and I have a strong position – we can have a debate and we can have a negotiation. If you're totally indifferent to the plight of these people, that isn't hopeful. So I am hopeful that they will be hopeful. And with that, I'd be pleased to take any questions you may have. Some may be about the Super Bowl. I'm not sure.
Q: There are indications from the House Republicans that they were going to make a clean debt limit. Have you had any conversations with the Speaker? And at this point what are your expectations about the debt ceiling?
Leader Pelosi. Not recently on that subject, but I'm optimistic that they will see the light and understand the jeopardy that even a discussion of not lifting the debt ceiling – as happened two-and-a-half years ago – even the discussion of it lowered our credit rating. We don't really need that uncertainty in our economy, and hopefully those who influence them are weighing in and they are seeing the light.
Q: You said that the Speaker has told you that their principles on immigration reform will be good and that they'll be acceptable to the Democratic Party.
Leader Pelosi. He thought so. Yeah. We'll see.
Q: Did he assure you at all that there would be a pathway to citizenship?
Leader Pelosi. We didn't talk about it at that level of detail in terms of the provisions of the bill, just principles. For example, we have our principles which we have established – longstanding, established by the House Democratic Caucus, going back years. And they are about securing our border, protecting our workers, uniting our families, and having a path to citizenship.
I don't know the form that they will take. I think they are changing it, in fact saying it is principles, it's standards, and we'll see what that is. But I believe it is a good faith effort to find common ground, and we look forward to seeing what they are.
Q: If they only come forward with a path to legalization, though, would that be a nonstarter for the Democratic Caucus?
Leader Pelosi. Well, any proposal is a starter. The starter is that's not where we're going to go. But in our caucus there has to be a path to citizenship. That doesn't mean as the Senate bill has. The Senate bill does not have a path to citizenship for everyone. It's, say, eleven million people, and theirs covers eight million people. And the others may get on a path, but the clearer path is for a bigger chunk. So when we talk about a path to citizenship, it doesn't say you're instantly a citizen, all of you. No, there are hurdles to get over. The path is in some ways an arduous one and people have to go down the path to make it happen. But we need to have that path. It's not only about the immigrants, it's about America. We're not a country that says do our work, but you can only have a limited legal status in our country. We would criticize other countries that did that.
Q: Ms. Pelosi, last night Representative Grimm told a reporter that he could break him and throw him over the balcony. I wanted to know if you saw that exchange at all?
Leader Pelosi. No.
Q: And if you feel that there should be any reprimand, perhaps an investigation by the House Ethics Committee into Representative Grimm for that?
Leader Pelosi. To tell the truth, I am so exhilarated about the speech of the President of the United States, I didn't pay that much attention to Representative Grimm. I think his actions speak for themselves. I don't need to comment on that.
Q: Leader Pelosi, Democrats have been kicked around on a couple of your big issues over the last few weeks, with unemployment insurance, and the cuts to the SNAP program and the farm bill, and yet your caucus has provided the votes to pass these bigger pieces of legislation: the budget agreement and the farm bill this morning. What leverage do Democrats have left, particularly on UI, and are you going to be willing to withhold votes on future legislation in order to accomplish those goals?
Leader Pelosi. Well, one of the advantages that the Republicans have is that the Democrats are responsible. We are not going to anoint their efforts to shut down government and prevent legislation from passing that we need to pass, even if it doesn't have everything that we want in it. And that's why we were able to pass some legislation on the budget when more than 60 percent of the Republicans voted to keep government shut down and to default on the full faith and credit of the United States of America. We didn't like the bill at all – in fact it was a Republican bill – but we gave the votes so that government would not be shut down.
So call us responsible, because that's what we are, and they know that. But the patience is not endless, and it depends on what the bill is as to whether we will go along with it or not and what else is at stake. But the unemployment insurance issue is not going to go away. The problem exists: over 70,000 more people each week, 10,000 people a day. That's a fight we will continue to make. And that's why our biggest opponent in this seems to be the indifference of the Republicans to the effect on America's working families that not extending these benefits is taking. So hopefully our responsibility will at some time overcome their indifference.
Q: Madam Leader, the Senate today is going to take up the national flood insurance bill and delay these drastic increases in premiums. When do you expect the House to deal with this measure?
Leader Pelosi. I hope soon. I met on that subject on the floor with Maxine Waters, who is our Ranking Member on the committee of jurisdiction, and Cedric Richmond, our Member from Louisiana. In any event, this is really important to the people of the country. The region is desperate. We really need this bill. I understand by the end of the day tomorrow it may be passed in a bipartisan way in the United States Senate. And so we call upon the Speaker to bring the bill to the floor. My understanding, though, is that Chairman Hensarling is opposed to bringing the bill up. And we're just calling on the Speaker to say: “This bill has to come up because it's really survival for the people in the region and all the way up.” I mean, it's not just the South. But it is very devastating to the South.
Q: Do you think the votes are there to pass it if it is brought up?
Leader Pelosi. Yes, definitely. Definitely. The Democrats will be all for the bill, because the need is so great. And hopefully, we want a vote and we think there would be enough Republicans whose districts are affected by it that they would vote for it. But our concern this morning was first, hooray – the Senate is bringing it up and it's going to be finished by tomorrow. Oh, my goodness, Chairman Hensarling keeps saying he is not going to bring it up.
Q: Have you heard why he opposes it?
Leader Pelosi. You'd have to ask him. You'd have to ask him.
Q: Madam Leader, I was wondering if you'd a chance to watch Cathy McMorris Rodgers' rebuttal?
Leader Pelosi. I didn't.
Q: Do you have any thoughts whatsoever, though, about the Republican Party's decision to put a woman in that spot?
Leader Pelosi. Well, I think it's great. It's a tough job. I mean, it is no favor. But that they had four responses was really more interesting to me. I would have never had time to watch all four of them. And in fact I got home after midnight, as it was, because of the enthusiasm of our Members and their guests following. Everybody wanted to talk about what the President said and what that meant and how exciting it was. But no offense to the Congresswoman. I haven't had a chance to watch any responses since the President has been elected. I'm sure that if it was newsworthy, that you all would report it and I would catch up the next day.
Q: Who are you rooting for on Sunday?
Leader Pelosi. Well, look, I have grandchildren all over the country, and after the 49ers they have their choices. In fact, one of my grandsons is going to the game with some of his family friends from where he lives. And some of them are for the Broncos, some of them are for the Seahawks, and I am for my grandchildren.
Q: How soon might there be action on any fair pay legislation in the House?
Leader Pelosi. Fair pay legislation in the House? Well, let's see what the Republicans come out of their conference with today. I understand one of their sensitivity sessions is about how to identify with working families, and maybe that might reach them. But since you brought up the subject, I am so excited that the President made it such an important part of his speech last night. I think that the reaction that he has received – well, certainly in the chamber, at least on one side of the aisle – if that was any indication, I don't know when the Republicans will bring up a bill. But as you saw, the House was divided on this issue. The Democrats were very enthusiastic about pay equity and fair pay and the Republicans were just sitting there, indifferent.
But the President took it to another place, which was pay equity and the point that: “When women succeed, America succeeds.” And it's really important to listen to those words, because it is not a slogan, it is a statement of fact. When women succeed, America succeeds. To unleash the power of women in the workplace and in our society is to strengthen America. And other countries in the world know this. Visitors that we have here, heads of state and the rest, they all say part of their agenda to grow their economies is to more seriously involve women in the economic life of their country. Some countries that I have visited, women will tell me: “We can't really establish too many political rights, so we see the economic path as our path to success and the impact that we can have on our country. “
So I don't know. By the applause of last night I wouldn't be too encouraged, but by the response the President received nationally – “Public sentiment is everything,” Abraham Lincoln. “Public sentiment is everything.” The public reacted in a very positive way to his message about workplace fairness. And you know what? Raising the minimum wage, as I say: over 60 percent of the people getting the minimum wage are women and lifts everybody's salary. It lifts the floor for wages for everyone in our country, men and women, not only just those making the minimum wage. And the pay equity is so important.
So we are very excited. For us, last night was a triumphant speech because it addressed the opportunity gap with an opportunity agenda that is simple, clear, precise, and very doable, and much of it bipartisan in the course of time. But sometimes Republicans who supported one thing at one point maybe won't at another. But we want the public to weigh in, and the best way for the public to weigh in is to hear the President of the United States speak.
Did you have one more question? I thought you asked about the 49ers.
Q: I'm from Los Angeles. We don't have football, so we don't care. Sorry. Madam Leader, you talked about the Democratic principles of immigration, and there is a Member of your caucus who is willing to forego citizenship and support a bill that would go for legalization. And I'm just wondering if you see other defections in the future?
Leader Pelosi. No. No. That is an odd person out. No, I'm not saying that citizenship will be for everybody. I'd just say that the Senate bill covers an overwhelming percentage of people who would be in the loop, and it doesn't mean the others won't in time be in the loop. But I think that to talk about legalization is to say that America is not the country we think we are, where people who are here – they wouldn't even be second class citizens, because they wouldn't be citizens. They'd be second class residents of our country. I just can't subscribe to that, and that's not where our caucus is, nor our supporters on this issue.
Any bill that takes you to a path to citizenship is a path that has legalization as the first part, to end the deportations, to put people on a path to get a green card so that they can work and the rest of that. And then the path to citizenship can take longer, depending on what the bill is. And that's what we're looking at. There are all kinds of ways to do this. But to surrender as the start of your negotiations, that's not where we are. And with all due respect to that Member, who is a valued Member, we have been fighting this fight for a long time in the Congress. This Member is a respected, very new Member – patience. We have too much invested to surrender before we even negotiate, and we're not going to that place.
Thank you all very much.